When Louisiana native James Roberts opened Toutant just 3 years ago, it was to cook his childhood loves: fried chicken, gumbo, and biscuits.
But at the new Dōbutsu (pronounced do-boot-soo and from here on out spelled sans ō… because ain’t nobody got time for that), Roberts won’t be cooking romantic Southern classics. He’ll be featuring food he fell for as an adult — seafood of the American Pacific.
“I love chicken and biscuits, I really do,” Roberts told Step Out Buffalo, “but I was making that stuff since I was a kid. The stuff that I like to go out and eat, the things that I seek out in other cities — these are the things that I’m looking to make (at Dobutsu).
“It’s a little selfish, I’m not gonna lie.”
Dobutsu isn’t just a self-serving passion project, however. Roberts pointed out that downtown Buffalo doesn’t have a non-sushi seafood house, and Dobutsu fills that niche nicely.
The new restaurant is the yin to Toutant’s yang, the ego to its id, the Kim to its Kanye. Bright and clean flavors are a big focus. Expect fish to be seared, flame-grilled or served raw, not covered in thick gravies or heavy sauces.
“The fish is the star,” at Dobutsu, Roberts said. “You have this incredibly high-quality ingredient, why would you try to put a bunch of stuff on top of it and doll it up when it already is a superstar? All you need to do is be a guardian to that product and give it a little supporting chorus, some symphony.”
The opening day menu featured a crab cocktail with yuzu, pickled serrano, and a fanfare of tomatoes; a Hato Mugi salad with legumes, pickled daikon, greens and ginger; and a vegetable ramen with red miso, spicy cabbage, scallion, red ginger and a mini-forest of enoki mushrooms. Other menu highlight included steamed buns with king crab, Japanese fritters, and raw oysters.
Moving forward, Dobutsu’s menu will rotate some dishes based on seasonality. Roberts said he also plans to feature a lot of street food from across the Pacific.
“Some things we are going to rotate, like the buns, dumplings and some of the salads,” he said. “Some of the ramen will change with the seasons, if not the actual item itself, then the composition. Like in the winter, we may go to a fattier broth and a thicker noodle, and in the summer we might go with a lighter, cleaner broth.”
At the bar, opening-day cocktails from bar manager Brett Krebuszewski featured fresh, vibrant flavors. Epona’s Song lashed carrot and pink peppercorn to tequila, triggering goosebumps and a vegetal twang on the tongue. The pink Botany Points cocktail was luxurious and refreshing, like spending spring weekend at a Lake Placid chalet.
Can and bottle beer was mostly from craft breweries Out West, while the draft list included a couple local favorites. Dobutsu’s liquor license permits beer to-go; just don’t get all Bourbon Street and pound your growler while zig-zagging down the Seneca Street sidewalk.
Also, dining room manager Jessica Railey is a certified sommelier: Don’t sleep on the wine list is all we’re saying.
The new restaurant has classic seafood house underpinnings: a blue-and-silver color scheme, fish mounted on the walls and a display case filled with fresh catches. Dark wood, exposed ducts, and minimalist furniture gave the space an industrial vibe that was contrasted by the open layout and shiploads of natural light streaming in through a large bank of windows. There’s also an open prep area where diners can see food being made and chit-chat with the staff.
No doubt, James Roberts and his wife/ business partner Connie are headed into uncharted waters with their second restaurant, but both say they’re excited and looking to take advantage of all their Toutant knowledge.
“Getting a restaurant going is like starting an orchestra with musicians you’ve never met,” said James Roberts. “So it’s been real crazy, but we’re pulling it together — slowly but surely.”
“It’s definitely exciting and definitely scary,” added Connie.
Best of luck Dobutsu fam. We have so much faith.
500 Seneca Street, Suite 119, Buffalo, New York, 14204
Hours: Tues to Thursday 4:30 p.m. – 10:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday 4:30 p.m. – 12 a.m., Sunday and Monday Closed
Not serving lunch yet, but soon
Opening Day: Tuesday, May 2, 2018